Michael N. Marcus discusses writing, editing, design, publishing, marketing, language, culture, politics, food and other things. This blog started in 2008, was on hiatus for the summer and fall of 2017, and restarted in December. Michael took time away from blogging for much of 2019 and 2020 to write books.
We publish on Monday,
Wednesday and Friday in most weeks.
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Friday, March 22, 2013
A printing primer
While most of the current excitement in book publishing involves ebooks, most books are still DTBs (dead tree books) and are printed on paper. Here's a primer on printing.
ebooks) remove much of the risk from book publishing. Because POD’d books don’t exist until demand has been demonstrated,
there is no danger of spending money to print books that will not be sold. With
POD, potential reading material is stored as digital
files in computers, not as complete books in cartons or on a shelf.
Books cost more to print this way compared to
conventional offsetprinting, but there are few or no unwanted
books to be stored, shipped or disposed of. In the early days of self-publishing,
it was common for authors to have hundreds of unsold books getting mildewed or
becoming mouse food.
2.Offset printing presses are generally used
for print runs of hundreds or thousands of books. It was not economical to
print just one or a few books at a time until the recent development of
high-speed laserprinters which print and bind hundreds of pages in a minute.
A book manuscript that is going to be
offset-printed requires fairly complex preparation including the production of
printing plates. Offset presses use
ink that can be printed on a wide variety of paper types. Digitalprintersuse toner
that bonds to pages with heat and will adhere to fewer types of paper.
were inferior to offset-printed books, but quality has improved
continuously. Today’s best POD books look as good as offset books, with the
possible exception of photographreproduction. But POD is generally good enough
and getting better all the time.
3.Preparation for POD is much simpler than
for offset, but per-book cost is higher;
and there is not much saving as the quantity increases.With offset, preparation
cost can be amortized over varying quantities of books, so the per-book cost
goes down as quantity goes up. A 300-page paperback printed by offsetcould cost $1.84 each for 1,000 copies or
$1.17 each for 10,000, or even less for 100,000. With POD, one copy could cost $5.40.
There’s usually a 5% discountfor 50 or more and higher discounts for larger
quantities—but POD prices never match
4.The two companies that provide most
on-demand printing and book distribution for self-publishers are Lightning
Source (“LS” or “LSI”) and CreateSpace (“CS”). LS can provide
more income per book. However, it’s less expensive to start a book and make
corrections with CS—and CS is easier for beginners to work with. CS is owned by
Amazon.com. Both companies can provide automatic book availability to Amazon.com,
Barnes & Noble and many other booksellers.
You’ll probably encounter online criticism of both
LS and CS. Each one has enthusiastic supporters and detractors. I’ve used both
companies and can’t say that one is consistently better than the other. Most
books from both companies are good enough, and both companies make occasional bad
The worst production error I ever saw was so funny
that I kept the book rather than return it. The cover of my book was wrapped around the pages of another book,
from another publisher.
Fortunately, errors like this don’t happen often—but
5.It’s common for self-publishing authors to
have their books printed on demand as orders come in. However, if you are reasonably
certain that you can sell hundreds or thousands of books per year, you can pay
much less per book with offset printing. Offset can be good if you have a way
to sell lots of books yourself (such as from your website or after seminars or
Lower printing cost will let you charge less for
your books, make more profit per book—or both.
Lower price is not the only reason to print offset.
Here are some more:
·Wider choice of book sizes
·Wider choice of papers
·Fancier covers and jackets
·Inserts such as special paper or CDs
6.Some offset printers can provide
distribution to booksellers; others will ship books to you, only. Bookmasters
provides a wide range of printing and distribution services, and author service
packages. Aeonix maintains an extensive online list of book printers. Jon
Kremer has a large list, too.
7.If you need a lot of books, you may save money by having them printed in China or
India. If you do, you probably should hire an experienced expert to oversee the
8.Even if your books will be printed in the
USA, a “print broker” may steer you
to printers you never heard of, offering a wider range of services. Even though
brokers make a profit, they may
generate so much money for the printers they work for that they may save you money. Some brokers are
listed here. A broker can help you
prepare a “request for proposals” (RFP)
and evaluate the bids you receive. Some brokers are shady. Check references.
9.Keep in mind that although your cost of
printing each book is less if you order 5,000 at one time, they’ll have to be
transported and stored. Freight companies and warehouses have to be paid. You can’t
put 5,000 books under your bed or in your car.
Book printers, distributors and wholesalers often
provide storage services and will ship books to booksellers or to you as
10.(The following is an example, not an endorsement.)
Here’s what Mill City Press says about storage fees: Each quarter pallet of
space costs $4.50 per month. As your inventory diminishes, your books will
occupy less pallet space, and your storage fees will be reduced accordingly. Each
pallet is 4’ x 4’ x 4’. In order to determine how many books will fill up a
pallet, you’ll need to determine your “carton quantity” (how many books fill a carton). Each pallet holds about 48 standard-sized
cartons of books. If your carton quantity is 25 books, you’ll be able to store 1,200
books per pallet.
11.Many companies that do printing—even copy
centers—want you to think that they can print books. Some merely send the work
to other companies and tack on a percentage for being a matchmaker. Others
print out a batch of 8.5 by 11-inch pages and staple them together like a term
paper. If a company says it prints “books,” examine some samples.
A nearby branch of Alphagraphics
(not really a book printer) quoted me $1,300 to produce 100 copies of a
300-page paperback. That’s about three times what I can pay to a POD book specialist.
is the attachment of covers (“binders”) to book pages. Binding of hardcover
books is a specialty. Some book printers bind their own books and some printers
use other companies for binding.
Choose the appropriate binding for your topic, audience, book length and price.
1.Most how-to books, and many self-published books of all genres, are perfect-bound paperbacks (soft covers).
2.If your book’s price is $24.95 or higher, many people will expect a hardcover book, probably with a dust jacket. Hardcovers cost more to manufacture than soft covers. You can select special cloth or paper, embossing, see-through cut-outs, foil, metallic ink, glued-on holograms, leather, fur or feathers (well, maybe not fur or feathers).
3.A casewrap is a less-expensive hardcover binding without a dust jacket.
4.Instruction manuals and cookbooks are more useful if they can lie flat when open and are often constructed with a comb or spiral binding. Unfortunately, these two binding methods are fragile and pages may become detached if the book is used frequently.
5.Thin books up to about 48 pages are often saddle-stitched. These books have no spines and the pages are folded and then stapled at the fold, through the cover.
13.If you are comparing prices for book
printing, you need to understand how paper thickness is described. Paper-Paper.com
has a good explanation: “The basis weight of a paper is the designated fixed weight
of 500 sheets, measured in pounds, in that paper’s basic sheet size. It is
important to note that the basic sheet size is not the same for all types of
A common size for cover stock is 20 by 26 inches. A common size for interior
pages is 25 by 38 inches. Many papers are available in rolls as well as
sheets. Heavier paper is thicker paper. Unless a special deal is available,
thicker paper costs more. A typical cover stock for POD paperbacks is “90 lb.”
A typical white page stock is “50 lb.” The “lb” is often expressed as “#.”
POD authority Morris Rosenthal
wrote: “There are two standard systems for determining paper weight. One is
used for the standard bond papers you buy for your copy machine or laser
printer, the other used by printers. To translate the familiar 20# or 24#
weight you are familiar with to printer weights, multiply by 2.5. The 20#
weight is equivalent to a 50# printer weight, the 24# weight is equivalent to
the 60# weight. Either weight is fine for trade paperbacks. Mass market
paperbacks often use much lighter weight recycled paper, earning the name ‘pulp